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Here’s why what you’re wearing is affecting or reflecting your mood

4 July 2018

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Splashed across your face or a T-shirt, a smile is contagious, so get out there and spread those positive vibes.

Candy-bright colours. Faux fur backpacks. Sequins in the daytime. Anything with googly eyes… some call them ‘happy clothes’, others call it ‘YOLO dressing’, and here in New Zealand, we’re not very good at it.

“Black, black, black. They love it,” wrote British fashion editor Lisa Armstrong about the New Zealand fashion set’s obsession with gloomy garments. That was in 2004 when the then-fashion writer for The Times was a guest at New Zealand Fashion Week, and well over a decade later, the sombre styling seen on and off our local runways is evidence that not a lot has changed.

You could blame Zambesi, NOM*d, World and Karen Walker. At London Fashion Week in 1999, the press-coined ‘Big Four’ made a combined splash on the international stage with their (mostly) moody collections. Described by reviewers at the time as ‘edgy’, ‘dark’, and ‘intellectual’, it cemented our reputation — and fixation — with black.


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If you asked local fashion historian Doris de Pont, she’d say our predilection for black has more to do with the New Zealand psyche. “There’s a dark aspect to our nature, a melancholy,” she wrote in her 2012 book of essays, Black: History of Black in Fashion, Society and Culture in New Zealand.

This isn’t to say we are all utterly miserable. Academic research, however, paints a different picture. A 2013 study from the University of Hertfordshire found that women’s clothing choices were heavily influenced by their emotional states. In a low mood, 57% would wear a baggy top compared to 2% when happy. Conversely, they’d be 10 times more likely to put on a favourite dress when happy (62%), than when feeling depressed (6%).

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The upshot of the study was that we gravitate towards clothes that suit how we are feeling on any given day — and it makes sense. When you’re under a cloud, nothing feels more comforting than a suitably storm-coloured knit. But does that make an essentially monochrome wardrobe a signifier of some kind of latent depression?

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According to another study by psychologists Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam, the concern isn’t that your clothing reflects your mood, but affects it. Their research explored the effects of wearing an identical white lab coat upon two groups of participants — the first group believing that the coat was a doctor’s coat, and the second believing it to be a painter’s.

It eventuated that those wearing the ‘doctor’s’ coat were able to better concentrate on a set task than those wearing the ‘painter’s’ coat, and thus the mind-altering abilities of our clothes were confirmed.

The key inference we can draw from this study is that happy clothes are the only thing standing between you and a perkier personality. How, now, to integrate said happy clothes into your wardrobe without looking like an extra on a children’s television show? There are two approaches. The first is to ease into it as you would with any tricky trend, which means accenting your usual grey marle and denim with playful accessories — think fun phone cases, fluffy bag charms, and silly statement earrings.

It’s a bandwagon that brands from Moschino to Miu Miu have jumped on. No one, however, has monetised it better than British designer Anya Hindmarch, whose suede ‘stickers’ in cute shapes including fried eggs and space invaders start at $100 USD, and after years on the market, remain in hot demand.

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It’s no wonder. These are trying times we’re living in, and we could probably all use some cheering up. Which is why we recommend the scarier, but undoubtedly faster-acting immersion method, for which you’ll want to take your cues from the Italians. That’s right, we’re talking the head-to-toe happy clothes that fashion blogger Chiara Ferragni and Vogue Nippon editor-at-large Anna Dello Russo are both famous for. Have you ever seen either scowling in a street style snap? Exactly.

So do as they do and embrace all things sparkly, frilly and fuzzy. Or perhaps food is your thing? Dolce & Gabbana has a dress for that. Cats? Go for Gucci. An 80s-inspired patterned mini skirt with ruffles? House of Holland. Add a Pucci puffer and a Charlotte Olympia rainbow clutch, and get happy.

And as for an outfit addition that will enhance not just your mood, but those around you? You could share the love with Saint Laurent’s heart coat, but for an easier option, look no further than the happy face motif. Whether it’s splashed across your face or a T-shirt, a smile is contagious, so get out there and spread those positive vibes.

To shop our happy fashion edit scroll through the gallery below:

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